The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

The new face of an underdog party: Q&A with Robert Dempsey

	Robert Dempsey recently took over as executive director of the N.C. Democratic Party.

Robert Dempsey recently took over as executive director of the N.C. Democratic Party.

As the N.C. Democratic Party works to rebuild and unify support after losing control of state politics in the last election, new executive director Robert Dempsey vows to bring accountability and change to his leading role.

State & National Editor Sarah Brown spoke with Dempsey about state politics today, the 2014 elections and how the party will address recent conflicts within its state leadership — including the resignation of vice chair Nina Szlosberg-Landis and a formal complaint filed by former employee Ellen Stankiewicz against chairman Randy Voller.

DAILY TAR HEEL: What specifically drew you to North Carolina?

Robert Dempsey: North Carolina is a very important state electorally. It’s absolutely imperative (for Democrats) to maintain control of the U.S. Senate by reelecting Kay Hagan (in 2014).

Obviously there’s a little more to do with working on rebuilding the party, and we certainly want to work toward regaining our majorities in the legislature and also looking at the governor’s seat as well.

I want to make sure that the day-to-day functioning of the party happens — and happens as smoothly as possible.

DTH: What are some of the similarities between this state and other states you’ve worked in?

RD: I’ve worked extensively in Ohio, full-time for 3 electoral cycles.

There are a lot of similarities between North Carolina and a state like Ohio. Clearly there are some economic differences, and I think North Carolina is in a better situation financially, not having been as reliant on manufacturing as a state like Ohio is or was.

Here, there’s definitely an older guard that is represented by some of our great Democratic leaders like Jim Hunt.

And then there are new folks. We have some young leaders in the state legislature, individuals like Sen. Josh Stein (D-Wake).

I’m looking to work with everyone to move the state forward.

DTH: As the 2014 campaigns begin to kick off, what do you think of the GOP opposition to Sen. Hagan so far?

RD: The leadership in the legislature — specifically Speaker Tillis — is showing that they don’t know how to lead. I think they’re very formidable, and we’re certainly taking everything very seriously.

But we’re talking about a speaker that is being led around by special interests, and I think the people of North Carolina will recognize … the leadership that Sen. Hagan provides.

DTH: Given the Democratic Party’s endorsing of the Moral Monday protests, what do you think of them and how do you see them evolving?

RD: It’s a vivid look to our Republican governor as a bad actor, where he’s encouraging his own administration to circumvent a disastrous Republican legislature.

I really hope it’s going to help shed light on the inability of this administration to lead.

I think it’s important for all the interests to have a seat at the table, and I certainly welcome the role that they’re playing. I think they’ll be a very integral part of our plan.

DTH: Do you see Gov. Pat McCrory adopting a more moderate role between the extreme right and left that have recently emerged in the state?

RD: Absolutely not. I don’t foresee him governing the way he campaigned at all.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

DTH: If you could say anything to Gov. McCrory and the legislature, what would it be?

RD: When you look at the great leadership that has led this state — people like Terry Sanford and Jim Hunt — their legacy was to invest in education and expand access to that quality education.

What I’d like to say to them is to stop treating our education system as a burden and to understand that that is the number one tool to economic development and the future of real innovation in this state.

DTH: There have been recent examples of discontent within the state’s Democratic Party. How will you help the party address these issues and move forward?

RD: What has happened in the past unfortunately has happened, but that’s exactly where it’s going to stay — in the past.

My track record has been to implement systems of accountability, and that’s precisely what I look to do here.

We’re a family, and I myself, being from a large family, clearly understand that you don’t always necessarily get along with your brothers and sisters, but at the end of the day … we’re going to come together as a unified party, stronger than ever.